In the hallway outside Remember Keturah Bohannon’s office Ellison stopped to check the floor.
“Do you see any scuff marks?” he asked Matilda.
“You mean, from when Remember dragged Fulke out of his office, into hers, and threw him out the window?” She pursed her lips and looked at the floor, then grabbed an oil lamp from a sconce on the wall and held it close to the floor.
“I don’t see anything,” she said, putting the lamp back. “But Fulke was a smallish guy. She could have probably carried him out.” Matilda looked back and forth between the two offices. “She knew him, so could have easily taken him by surprise and overpowered him. Then carried him right across into her office before anyone noticed. She would have had to have someone outside, under her window.”
“Maybe whoever she sold him off to,” said Ellison. “Like a torturer’s guild.”
“I’ll ask around,” said Matilda. “I know a lot of the torturers. They’re big gossips.”
Ellison glanced back at Remember’s office door. “She did seem genuinely upset.”
“Maybe she feels guilty.” Matilda shrugged. “I can’t count the number of times I got mad at someone I was dating and cut them up.” She paused. “Sometimes, I felt bad afterwards.”
“To be honest, most of the time they deserved it.”
They heard a door shut at the end of the hallway. It was Taenaran the Bard, leaving his office. He was wearing a heavy, full-length coat and carrying a large canvas duffle bag, probably headed home.
The stepped to the side to let him pass.
“Found Fulke yet?” Taenaran asked.
Ellison shook his head. “Have you heard anything?”
“Just that the grid admins teleported in and took him,” said the bard. “I don’t buy it for a second, but that’s what the Round Krim nuts say.” He twirled his finger at his temple. “Crazy. I still think it was a publicity stunt. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already printing up pamphlets and planning a march on city hall.” He laughed and walked away.
The bag the bard was carrying looked familiar.
“Where have I seen that duffle bag before?” Ellison asked, pointing in Taenaran’s direction.
“That’s the bag that comes with the default minstrel outfit,” said Matilda. “You probably have seen it around the grid.”
“A lot of minstrels in the city?”
“No,” she said, “But it’s a popular outfit. It’s free, the boots are very comfortable, the tights are a little much but the coat is nice and warm, and the lute makes good kindling. Plus, you can never go wrong with a good big duffle bag. You can fit a lot in there, and if you put your arms through the two handles, you can wear it like a backpack. If you want to make a little money, just go through the gate, grab the outfit, and there’s a stall in the central square where a guy will buy nearly all of it from you. Then you go back in and get another one. Back in the early days, I heard that those lute saved some people from freezing to death.”
“Can you fit a body in one of those bags?”
“A dead body of a small guy like Fulke, sure,” said Matilda. “If he was still alive, you’d have to knock him unconscious so he wouldn’t wriggle around too much. You think Remember stuffed him into a bag before she threw him out the window?” She snapped her fingers at him. “That’s a good thought. Those bags are probably all over the place around here, because of all the minstrels. And if someone saw her throw something out the window, people wouldn’t think anything of it.”
“Not that anyone would care either way,” said Ellison.
“Right. I wouldn’t give it a second thought if I saw a body fall out a window.” She walked down the hall, towards the stairs. As they got closer, they could hear a soft chanting. “Hey, it’s the sex cult,” said Matilda.
They turned the corner. The stairway was in the shadows, and the room below was also dark, lit only by a small cluster of candles in the very center of the pentagram drawn on the stone floor.
A couple of dozen hooded figures stood in a circle surrounding the candles.
Matilda elbowed Ellison in his side. “You’d fit right in,” she whispered.
She was right. The cultists had the same hooded cloaks that he wore. In fact, there was a pile of extra cloaks near the bottom of the stairs.
“You could infiltrate the cult,” she said.
“Why? They weren’t here that night.”
Also, they gave Ellison the creeps.
“Fine,” said Matilda, and stomped down the stairs.
The cultists stopped their chanting, turned, and looked at her.
“Hi kids,” she waved at them. “Hi, Skullash. Don’t mind me, just passing through.”
Ellison hurried down after her.
One of the cultists pulled back their hood to reveal a balding head and a beard.
That must have been Skullash.
The cult leader turned around, and in the candlelight, Ellison could see a dark red robe under his cloak.
This must have been who the Crow’s Nest Cafe waitress saw arguing with Fulke down at the docks.
“It’s okay, we’re just rehearsing,” said Skullash. “The ceremony doesn’t officially start for half an hour.”
“I forgot you had cult choir practice scheduled today,” said Matilda. “I thought Round Krim had the place tonight.”
“They did,” said Skullash. “But Remember got mad at Fulke for standing her up and gave their slot to us. We want to get in as many rehearsals in as we can.”
“Big solstice plans?”
“Yes, we have some human sacrifices lined up. Tell all your friends. There will also be party favors. We’re giving away skull mugs made from actual skulls. You can drink you beer and worship Qualdir at the same time.”
“The cults throw the best solstice celebrations,” Matilda told Ellison. “And the Sacred Cult of Qualdir really goes all out every year.”
“We try,” said Skullash. “It’s become quite the tradition. But it’s nothing like what we have at our temple up north. You really should join us sometime.”
“I heard you had a beef with Fulke,” said Matilda.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Skullash sighed. “The man was a menace. I really do hope that Krim has a secret dungeon in some parallel dimension that they’re keeping him in. He thought that the existence of the solstice proves that Krim is round.” The cult leader shook his head. “We all know that Skullash created Krim ten thousand years ago by dividing the universe into two with his giant sword, the earth below and the sky above.”
“So you’re mad at him because of his heresy?” Ellison asked.
“Well, that’s part of it. But also, we had our rehearsal space booked for months in advance. Do you know how hard it is to find a place like this right before the holidays? Then I come back to the city, and the infidel has seduced the proprietress and convinced her to rearrange the schedule. We pre-paid. Karma is a… I mean, Qualdir’s vengeance is swift and sure.”
“Hail, Qualdir!” the other cultists sang in unison.
“Right, well, we better be going…” said Ellison.
“Feel free to grab some scones on your way out,” said Skullash. “And some invitations. There’s no cover charge if you bring your own sacrifice.”